Breast cancer will cost the UK economy as much as £2.6-£2.8 billion in 2024, and possibly more, a new report, published by the cross-party think tank Demos and leading research and support charity Breast Cancer Now has revealed.
Exposing the current impact of one of the UK’s biggest health challenges on the lives of those affected and our health system, and the far greater price we’ll pay if nothing changes in the next decade, ‘The Cost of Breast Cancer’ warns that if nothing is done to prevent the current devastating impact of the disease, the annual cost of breast cancer to the economy could rise by almost 40% to £3.6 billion by 2034.
These figures represent costs to the NHS in terms of diagnosis and treatment; costs to society in terms of productivity loss relating both to the patient and their informal carers; and the individual costs that people bear, such as out of pocket expenses and the loss of income from work.
The urgent need for action is further highlighted by the report’s revelation of the true human cost of breast cancer, with wellbeing costs associated with breast cancer estimated to amount to a staggering £17.5 billion in 2024. Around six times higher than estimated economic costs, this figure exposes the often unrecognised, wider impacts of breast cancer across all who are affected by this devastating disease including: costs incurred through reduced quality of life and early death, and impact on carers, partners and children.
In this report, Demos and Breast Cancer Now also set out the results of modelling to demonstrate some of the ways the severe human and financial impacts of breast cancer could be tackled. The modelling considers the potential impacts of increasing breast screening uptake, introducing more clinical nurse specialists, and helping more people return to work after a breast cancer diagnosis.
In a bid to turn the tide on the disease, Breast Cancer Now is calling on UK governments and policymakers to urgently engage with the scale of this crisis and work with the charity to implement measures to improve the lives of those impacted by breast cancer and reduce financial costs for the NHS and UK economy.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now said:
“These revealing, first-of-their-kind, estimates of the economic and wellbeing costs of breast cancer in the UK show that breast cancer is far from being a ‘done deal’, and the consequences of us failing to act now are dire.
“For 50 years we’ve been supporting anyone affected by breast cancer and funding world-class research. While progress has been made across diagnosis, treatment and care, people diagnosed with breast cancer and their loved ones share with us daily the challenges of living with the disease and how their wellbeing and quality of life have deteriorated.
“While 98% of women diagnosed at stage 1 survive for five years or more, we cannot afford to be complacent about breast cancer – it’s the most common cancer in the world and cases are rising. In the UK alone, each year there are around 55,000 new cases and breast cancer causes over 11,000 deaths. The outlook for women first diagnosed with stage 4, when the cancer has spread to another part of the body and become incurable, is bleak, with around 26% - or a quarter – surviving five years or more. But there are practical steps that can be taken now to help those most affected.
“‘The Cost of Breast Cancer’ is a wake-up call to governments and policymakers across the UK to engage with this growing health crisis and to act now with modelling setting out some of the ways in which this crisis could be tackled, most importantly to transform the lives of those affected by breast cancer, but also to make substantial and much needed cost savings for the NHS and the economy.”
Lucy Bush, director of research and participation at Demos, said:
“At Demos, we have long been making the case for a more preventative approach in healthcare delivery and this report demonstrates the value of such a model in relation to cancer care.
“Shifting towards a more preventative model of healthcare overall is vital as we face a rising tide of demand for healthcare that firefighting alone will not stem. A preventative approach will reduce the strain on the public purse at the same time as creating a stronger and more resilient population.
“In this report we show that adopting preventative measures that reduce early death and the impact of the disease have the potential to greatly reduce the cost of breast cancer to the economy and individuals.
“It is the first study of its kind to evaluate with rigour and depth the true economic costs to the UK economy of breast cancer. It is also the first of its kind to calculate the significant wellbeing costs associated with the impact of the disease on patients and relatives.
“It reveals that as a country we could be doing so much more to reduce the impact of this disease.
“By identifying the true economic costs of breast cancer and where exactly they fall, we have been able to show how targeted upfront investment could improve wellbeing and survival rates and bring down costs in the longer term.”
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Notes to editor
Where possible UK data has been used, though in some cases English-only data is available and so it has been pro-rated to cover the whole of the UK, using the regional distribution of breast cancer incidence.
 An estimated £2.6-£2.8 billion. Demos have created a model that estimates the economic costs to the UK economy of breast cancer now and up until 2034, as compared to a world without breast cancer. These figures represent actual amounts of money in the economy that may be spent, saved, gained or lost depending on the policy environment.
The model uses Cancer Research UK incidence projections and annual breast cancer registry data from 2019 on the number of newly diagnosed patients. These figures have been used to calculate the likely number of cases in the UK every year up to 2034.
We have used a ‘Cost of Incidence’ approach in the model. Therefore, the costs presented for 2024 are the lifetime costs associated with those breast cancer patients diagnosed in 2024. The predicted incidence rates are then used to calculate the size of the main areas of cost over time.
 The economic costs in 2034 are calculated by taking the latest year we have full data for, 2019, and using a combination of incidence data and existing research projecting the increase in costs to 2034. The costs mainly fall to the NHS and the wider UK economy through loss of labour productivity with both patients and carers costs included.
An almost 40% increase has been calculated using the £2.6bn figure in the estimated range of the cost of breast cancer to the UK economy of £2.6-2.8bn in 2024, rising to £3.6 billion by 2034.
 This is calculated by ascribing a standardised financial value to the loss of wellbeing or the loss of ‘years lived’ that people with breast cancer, and those around them, experience.
About Breast Cancer Now
If you’re experiencing breast cancer we’re here, whenever you need us. Be it through our support services, trusted breast cancer information or our specialist nurses who you can reach via our free helpline and 24/7 online forum.
Backed by dedicated campaigners, we’re fighting for the best possible treatment, services, and care, for anyone affected by breast cancer. And support from our amazing fundraisers helps ensure our life-saving research and life-changing support can happen.
If you’re worried about breast cancer or have a question about breast health, we’re here to support you every step of the way. Speak to our expert nurses now by calling our free helpline on 0808 800 6000 or visit forum.breastcancernow.org
Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research.